56-year-old Gil de Ferran, the 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner, died Friday while racing with his son at The Concourse Club in Florida.
–by Mark Cipolloni–
The Brazilian Motorsports Confederation confirmed de Ferran suffered a fatal heart attack in a statement issued by president Giovanni Guerra.
De Ferran edged Team Penske teammate and fellow Brazilian Helio Castroneves in a scintillating finish in the 2003 edition of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” earning his victory by 0.2990 of a second after passing Castroneves for good on Lap 170. De Ferran earned his sole “500” victory in the last of his four career starts in the race, as he retired as a driver after the 2003 INDYCAR SERIES season.
While de Ferran denied close friend Castroneves a record-setting third consecutive “500” win in 2003, de Ferran’s drive to victory circle was the third straight Indy win for Team Penske. He also finished runner-up behind Castroneves in 2001.
De Ferran ended his INDYCAR SERIES driving career with 12 victories and 21 poles, with his final win coming in his last career start, on Oct. 12, 2003, at Texas Motor Speedway. His first victory came as a rookie in 1995 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca while driving for Hall/VDS Racing. He earned CART Rookie of the Year honors in 1995.
“Gil de Ferran shone in Brazilian and foreign tracks, having as highlights his English Formula 3 title, his two IndyCar championships, and the victory at Indy 500 in 2003. In my name and in the name of our confederation, we pray to God so He welcomes our brother in all glory and comforts his family, friends and millions of fans all over the world.”
Fellow Brazilian driver Tony Kanaan told the Associated Press (AP) de Ferran was with his son, Luke, at the private course in Opa-Locka, Florida, when he pulled over and said he wasn’t feeling well. Kanaan said de Ferran apparently suffered a heart attack and could not be revived.
“We are terribly saddened to hear about today’s tragic passing of Gil de Ferran. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Angela, Anna, Luke and the entire de Ferran family,” Roger Penske said in a statement. “Gil defined class as a driver and as a gentleman. As an IndyCar Champion and an Indianapolis 500 winner, Gil accomplished so much during his career, both on and off the track.
“Gil was beloved by so many. He was a great friend to the Team Penske and IndyCar family, as well as the entire international motorsports community. Gil’s passing is a terrible loss and he will be deeply missed.”
Kanaan said he was “devastated” at the loss of the Brazilian icon.
“He was one of my best friends and we grew up together and lately and we worked together at McLaren,” Kanaan told The Associated Press. “In the beginning of this year he was a mentor, helping me out. I lost a dear friend. I am devastated. I have to say, he went in Gil style, driving a racecar. If I could choose a way to go, that’s what I could do.”
McLaren CEO Zak Brown, a longtime close friend of de Ferran’s, “I am shocked and devastated to hear of the loss of a great friend and he teammate,” he wrote on social media. “I’ve raced with Gil all over the world and watched him win some of the biggest races.
“He’s been a great friend for over 20 years and will be greatly missed and never forgotten,” Brown said. “ My deepest condolences to his family. RIP Gil. The next win is for you! Goodspeed.”
After his INDYCAR SERIES career, de Ferran mixed driving in sports cars and his budding career in team management with his usual blend of courtesy and class.
He joined the BAR-Honda Formula One team as sporting director in 2005, remaining in that role until 2007. Then de Ferran returned to the cockpit in 2008 in a factory-backed Acura LMP2 prototype in the American Le Mans Series as the owner-driver of his team, de Ferran Motorsports, sharing the wheel with future INDYCAR SERIES champion and Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud.
The team climbed to the premier LMP1 prototype class as an Acura factory team in 2009, with five victories and seven poles en route to a runner-up finish in the standings.
De Ferran retired as a driver after the 2009 season and co-owned de Ferran Dragon Racing in the INDYCAR SERIES through 2011. During this time, de Ferran also served as a team owners’ representative on the ICONIC committee that evaluated designs for the next generation of INDYCAR SERIES chassis, with his immense technical and managerial acumen adding greatly to the process.
In July 2018, de Ferran was named sporting director for McLaren Racing in Formula One, a role he held until early 2021. In May 2023, he also was rehired by McLaren as a consultant and advisor.
De Ferran started racing in karting in Brazil, where he moved as a toddler with his family after being born in Paris. He advanced through junior open-wheel formulas in Brazil before moving to Great Britain to race.
He finished third in the 1991 British Formula 3 championship, behind only future F1 race winners Rubens Barrichello and David Coulthard. In 1992, de Ferran won the British F3 title for Paul Stewart Racing with seven victories. He raced in Formula 3000 (now Formula 2, one step below F1) in 1993 and 1994 for Paul Stewart Racing, finishing tied for fourth in 1993 and third in 1994 before moving to America to race in 1995.
De Ferran is survived by his wife, Angela, daughter Anna, and son, Luke.
Everyone at AutoRacing1.com is devastated by the news. Our condolences to his family.
I am at a complete loss for words. Gil de Ferran was a legend of our sport and an inspiration and mentor to so many, myself included. Absolutely shocked at news of his passing. My heart goes out to his family and fans.
— James Hinchcliffe (@Hinchtown) December 30, 2023
My heart sank at the news of Gil de Ferran’s death. It’s heart-wrenching. Thinking of him now and savoring every conversation. He will be missed by so many. A wonderful man and a dear and loyal friend. pic.twitter.com/aPVXjlKwY7
— Mario Andretti (@MarioAndretti) December 30, 2023
INDYCAR is deeply saddened by the passing of two-time series champion and racing legend Gil de Ferran.
Our thoughts are with his family, friends and loved ones. pic.twitter.com/Yo3b1FkoV7
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) December 30, 2023
The fastest oval driver of all time has left us. RIP Gil de Ferran, 2003 Indy 500 champion. The one time I met him, he was just as friendly as could be
241.428 mph at California Speedway still stands as the fastest closed circuit qualifying speed ever pic.twitter.com/73m4CQHYdj
— nascarman (@nascarman_rr) December 30, 2023
The IMS Museum mourns the tragic loss of 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner Gil de Ferran.
A celebrated and respected competitor, he will be missed by all. Our thoughts are with his family and friends during this time. pic.twitter.com/Qz2Cew5QS0
— IMS Museum 🏁 (@IMSMuseum) December 30, 2023
We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Gil de Ferran. Motorsport has lost a true icon and advocate. Our thoughts are with all of Gil’s family, friends and fans.
— Andretti Global (@AndrettiGlobal) December 30, 2023